In a retro combination of dreamy pop and beach rock, Jeff Draco breathes easy-going, Southern California air into his borderline indie melodies. This refreshing and euphoric fusion transports listeners to the 2008 era of pout music with a positive twist that leaves fans feeling like they’re one of Draco’s friends.

Draco, a Maryland native and a University of Maryland alum, is rising in the Washington, D.C., indie music scene. On Thursday, this meant opening for The Crystal Casino Band at the 9:30 Club. But in capturing the essence of the dream-pop genre in its teenage, neo-psychedelia sound, Draco left the headliner sounding occasionally cringe in its attempt to do the same.

Swept up in his amiable aesthetic, Draco’s slight funk-infused, heart-achy pop songs give the sense of beach air blowing on your face as your feet sink into the sand. It gives a “spending the summer on the West Coast” vibe with a tinge of “all I have to worry about is love.” This laid-back and simple “I’m just rocking out with friends” aesthetic felt nothing but natural.

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Living up to his nostalgic rhythms that aim to “make you want to sing and dance to them with your best friends in the world,” Draco took fans through his older music before sharing his newly released single “Letters.”

A tambourine softly rattled in the background as Draco relayed the commonly felt heartache of having to piece together the hurtful memories of a relationship that ended. But with the support of friends, he’s able to look at the larger picture and see how the love he lost was actually hurting him.

Swinging in place while clutching his guitar on slower songs, Draco’s energy quickly changed with the beat — reinvigorating the audience even when songs weren’t in full rock mode. 

Working up a sweat, Draco shook his skater boy helmet hair in the air. The quick shake of his head visually dried his hair, allowing it to fall perfectly back in place. By perfectly, I mean brushed forward over his forehead, encroaching on his eyes like your neighborhood garage-band musician whose music prompts you to open a window and let the tunes flow in with the breeze.

Scrunching his face in heartfelt awareness of his emotions, Draco’s lyrics clearly came from his own life experiences. His direct eye contact forged an intimate relationship between him and his audience. Nevertheless, Draco’s friendship with his band wasn’t lost.

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Often facing his guitarist — who in all honesty looked like Tom Felton, the actor who played Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series and oddly brought the whole Draco nostalgia together — the two musicians fed off of the other’s energy. In all, they had fun, as friends do.

Wrapping up his opening set, Draco warmed the audience up for the headliner almost too well. 

In what I can only imagine was an attempt to engage the younger audience, The Crystal Casino Band brought a TikTok star on stage to sing about the parts of life that are “highlight reel” quality. It was the last song I listened to before deciding it was time to cut the show short and leave. 

Failing to stay true to the experiences of the generations whose nostalgia they tried to ignite, the opener simply outplayed the headliner. Luckily for Draco, his time as an opener may be short. I expect to see Draco and his band headlining on the same stage in a few years.